Polar bears threatened by toxic chemicals in melting sea ice • Earth.com
Polar bears are exposed to toxic chemicals used in cosmetics and non-stick pans, and this exposure is directly linked to global warming, according to a new study from Lancaster University.
Chemicals are released into the air in high concentrations from manufacturing sites and then carried by wind to the Arctic, where they accumulate in sea ice.
As temperatures rise across the Arctic, chemicals are leaking into the ocean as the ice melts. The contaminants are then consumed by algae and zooplankton, before moving up the food chain to the polar bears.
Poly and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are called “perennial chemicals” which do not break down completely in the environment. The Lancaster team discovered the toxic chemicals in the brine under the ice – a preferred habitat for algae and other organisms at the bottom of the marine food chain.
Experts tested samples from the Barents Sea, thousands of kilometers from densely populated areas of Europe. They found that the concentration of toxic chemicals was up to double the concentration seen in the North Sea.
According to the researchers, there is evidence that PFAS disrupts the hormonal system in polar bears. PFAS are also linked to a range of health problems in humans, including liver damage, birth defects, cancer, and weakened immunity. According to the CDC, PFAS have been found in the blood of almost all Americans tested.
In the Arctic, sea ice would stay frozen for years, but now melts every summer due to global warming.
“This year-old ice contains a lot of mobile brine which interacts with the overlying snowpack and can serve to concentrate pollutants like PFAS, which are generally found at very low levels,” said the co-author of the study, Professor Crispin Halsall.
“Unfortunately, with earlier and more erratic thaw events, this can lead to a rapid release of stored chemicals, resulting in high concentrations in the waters surrounding pack ice. “
Prof Halsall said it is only through this type of scientific research that we can understand the behavioral dynamics of pollutants and identify the main dangers, especially those related to climate change.
“In turn, this can lead to international legislation so that chemicals that exhibit this type of behavior are banned. “
The study is published in the journal Environmental sciences and technologies.
Through Chrissy sexton, Terre.com Editor-in-chief